Separation process

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A separation process is a method that converts a mixture or a solution of chemical substances into two or more distinct product mixtures, [1] a scientific process of separating two or more substance in order to obtain purity. At least one product mixture from the separation is enriched in one or more of the source mixture's constituents. In some cases, a separation may fully divide the mixture into pure constituents. Separations exploit differences in chemical properties or physical properties (such as size, shape, mass, density, or chemical affinity) between the constituents of a mixture.


Processes are often classified according to the particular properties they exploit to achieve separation. If no single difference can be used to accomplish the desired separation, multiple operations can often be combined to achieve the desired end.

With a few exceptions, elements or compounds exist in nature in an impure state. Often these raw materials must go through a separation before they can be put to productive use, making separation techniques essential for the modern industrial economy.

The purpose of separation may be:

Separations may be performed on a small scale, as in a laboratory for analytical purposes, or on a large scale, as in a Chemical plant.

Complete and incomplete separation

Some types of separation require complete purification of a certain component. An example is the production of aluminum metal from bauxite ore through electrolysis refining. In contrast, an incomplete separation process may specify an output to consist of a mixture instead of a single pure component. A good example of an incomplete separation technique is oil refining. Crude oil occurs naturally as a mixture of various hydrocarbons and impurities. The refining process splits this mixture into other, more valuable mixtures such as natural gas, gasoline and chemical feedstocks, none of which are pure substances, but each of which must be separated from the raw crude.

In both cases of complete and incomplete separation, a series of separations may be necessary to obtain the desired end products. In the case of oil refining, crude is subjected to a long series of individual distillation steps, each of which produces a different product or intermediate.

List of separation techniques


Chromatography separates dissolved substances by different interaction with (i.e., travel through) a material.


Electrophoresis, separates organic molecules based on their different interaction with a gel under an electric potential (i.e., different travel)



See also

Related Research Articles

In chemical analysis, chromatography is a laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture into its components. The mixture is dissolved in a fluid solvent called the mobile phase, which carries it through a system on which a material called the stationary phase is fixed. Because the different constituents of the mixture tend to have different affinities for the stationary phase and are retained for different lengths of time depending on their interactions with its surface sites, the constituents travel at different apparent velocities in the mobile fluid, causing them to separate. The separation is based on the differential partitioning between the mobile and the stationary phases. Subtle differences in a compound's partition coefficient result in differential retention on the stationary phase and thus affect the separation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Distillation</span> Method of separating mixtures

Distillation, or classical distillation, is the process of separating the components or substances from a liquid mixture by using selective boiling and condensation, usually inside an apparatus known as a still. Dry distillation is the heating of solid materials to produce gaseous products ; this may involve chemical changes such as destructive distillation or cracking. Distillation may result in essentially complete separation, or it may be a partial separation that increases the concentration of selected components; in either case, the process exploits differences in the relative volatility of the mixture's components. In industrial applications, distillation is a unit operation of practically universal importance, but is a physical separation process, not a chemical reaction. An installation used for distillation, especially of distilled beverages, is a distillery. Distillation includes the following applications:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Filtration</span> Process that separates solids from fluids

Filtration is a physical separation process that separates solid matter and fluid from a mixture using a filter medium that has a complex structure through which only the fluid can pass. Solid particles that cannot pass through the filter medium are described as oversize and the fluid that passes through is called the filtrate. Oversize particles may form a filter cake on top of the filter and may also block the filter lattice, preventing the fluid phase from crossing the filter, known as blinding. The size of the largest particles that can successfully pass through a filter is called the effective pore size of that filter. The separation of solid and fluid is imperfect; solids will be contaminated with some fluid and filtrate will contain fine particles. Filtration occurs both in nature and in engineered systems; there are biological, geological, and industrial forms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vapor</span> Substances in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical point

In physics, a vapor or vapour is a substance in the gas phase at a temperature lower than its critical temperature, which means that the vapor can be condensed to a liquid by increasing the pressure on it without reducing the temperature of the vapor. A vapor is different from an aerosol. An aerosol is a suspension of tiny particles of liquid, solid, or both within a gas.

Refining is the process of purification of a (1) substance or a (2) form. The term is usually used of a natural resource that is almost in a usable form, but which is more useful in its pure form. For instance, most types of natural petroleum will burn straight from the ground, but it will burn poorly and quickly clog an engine with residues and by-products. The term is broad, and may include more drastic transformations, such as the reduction of ore to metal.

Fractional distillation is the separation of a mixture into its component parts, or fractions. Chemical compounds are separated by heating them to a temperature at which one or more fractions of the mixture will vaporize. It uses distillation to fractionate. Generally the component parts have boiling points that differ by less than 25 °C (45 °F) from each other under a pressure of one atmosphere. If the difference in boiling points is greater than 25 °C, a simple distillation is typically used. It is used to refine crude oil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Industrial processes</span> Process of producing goods

Industrial processes are procedures involving chemical, physical, electrical or mechanical steps to aid in the manufacturing of an item or items, usually carried out on a very large scale. Industrial processes are the key components of heavy industry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fractionation</span> Method of separating components of a mixture via phase transition

Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture is divided during a phase transition, into a number of smaller quantities (fractions) in which the composition varies according to a gradient. Fractions are collected based on differences in a specific property of the individual components. A common trait in fractionations is the need to find an optimum between the amount of fractions collected and the desired purity in each fraction. Fractionation makes it possible to isolate more than two components in a mixture in a single run. This property sets it apart from other separation techniques.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unit operation</span>

In chemical engineering and related fields, a unit operation is a basic step in a process. Unit operations involve a physical change or chemical transformation such as separation, crystallization, evaporation, filtration, polymerization, isomerization, and other reactions. For example, in milk processing, the following unit operations are involved: homogenization, pasteurization, and packaging. These unit operations are connected to create the overall process. A process may require many unit operations to obtain the desired product from the starting materials, or feedstocks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Volatility (chemistry)</span> Tendency of a substance to vaporize

In chemistry, volatility is a material quality which describes how readily a substance vaporizes. At a given temperature and pressure, a substance with high volatility is more likely to exist as a vapour, while a substance with low volatility is more likely to be a liquid or solid. Volatility can also describe the tendency of a vapor to condense into a liquid or solid; less volatile substances will more readily condense from a vapor than highly volatile ones. Differences in volatility can be observed by comparing how fast substances within a group evaporate when exposed to the atmosphere. A highly volatile substance such as rubbing alcohol will quickly evaporate, while a substance with low volatility such as vegetable oil will remain condensed. In general, solids are much less volatile than liquids, but there are some exceptions. Solids that sublimate such as dry ice or iodine can vaporize at a similar rate as some liquids under standard conditions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Continuous distillation</span> Form of distillation

Continuous distillation, a form of distillation, is an ongoing separation in which a mixture is continuously fed into the process and separated fractions are removed continuously as output streams. Distillation is the separation or partial separation of a liquid feed mixture into components or fractions by selective boiling and condensation. The process produces at least two output fractions. These fractions include at least one volatile distillate fraction, which has boiled and been separately captured as a vapor condensed to a liquid, and practically always a bottoms fraction, which is the least volatile residue that has not been separately captured as a condensed vapor.

A zeotropicmixture, or non-azeotropic mixture, is a mixture with liquid components that have different boiling points. For example, nitrogen, methane, ethane, propane, and isobutane constitute a zeotropic mixture. Individual substances within the mixture do not evaporate or condense at the same temperature as one substance. In other words, the mixture has a temperature glide, as the phase change occurs in a temperature range of about four to seven degrees Celsius, rather than at a constant temperature. On temperature-composition graphs, this temperature glide can be seen as the temperature difference between the bubble point and dew point. For zeotropic mixtures, the temperatures on the bubble (boiling) curve are between the individual component's boiling temperatures. When a zeotropic mixture is boiled or condensed, the composition of the liquid and the vapor changes according to the mixtures's temperature-composition diagram.

In manufacturing, the simulated moving bed (SMB) process is a highly engineered process for implementing chromatographic separation. It is used to separate one chemical compound or one class of chemical compounds from one or more other chemical compounds to provide significant quantities of the purified or enriched material at a lower cost than could be obtained using simple (batch) chromatography. It cannot provide any separation or purification that cannot be done by a simple column purification. The process is rather complicated. The single advantage which it brings to a chromatographic purification is that it allows the production of large quantities of highly purified material at a dramatically reduced cost. The cost reductions come about as a result of: the use of a smaller amount of chromatographic separation media stationary phase, a continuous and high rate of production, and decreased solvent and energy requirements. This improved economic performance is brought about by a valve-and-column arrangement that is used to lengthen the stationary phase indefinitely and allow very high solute loadings to the process.

Acid–base extraction is a subclass of liquid–liquid extractions and involves the separation of chemical species from other acidic or basic compounds. It is typically performed during the work-up step following a chemical synthesis to purify crude compounds and results in the product being largely free of acidic or basic impurities. A separatory funnel is commonly used to perform an acid-base extraction.

The history of chromatography spans from the mid-19th century to the 21st. Chromatography, literally "color writing", was used—and named— in the first decade of the 20th century, primarily for the separation of plant pigments such as chlorophyll and carotenoids. New forms of chromatography developed in the 1930s and 1940s made the technique useful for a wide range of separation processes and chemical analysis tasks, especially in biochemistry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Countercurrent chromatography</span>

Countercurrent chromatography is a form of liquid–liquid chromatography that uses a liquid stationary phase that is held in place by inertia of the molecules composing the stationary phase accelerating toward the center of a centrifuge due to centripetal force and is used to separate, identify, and quantify the chemical components of a mixture. In its broadest sense, countercurrent chromatography encompasses a collection of related liquid chromatography techniques that employ two immiscible liquid phases without a solid support. The two liquid phases come in contact with each other as at least one phase is pumped through a column, a hollow tube or a series of chambers connected with channels, which contains both phases. The resulting dynamic mixing and settling action allows the components to be separated by their respective solubilities in the two phases. A wide variety of two-phase solvent systems consisting of at least two immiscible liquids may be employed to provide the proper selectivity for the desired separation.

Industrial separation processes are technical procedures which are used in industry to separate a product from impurities or other products. The original mixture may either be a natural resource or the product of a chemical reaction.

An oil water separator (OWS) is a piece of equipment used to separate oil and water mixtures into their separate components. There are many different types of oil-water separator. Each has different oil separation capability and are used in different industries. Oil water separators are designed and selected after consideration of oil separation performance parameters and life cycle cost considerations. "Oil" can be taken to mean mineral, vegetable and animal oils, and the many different hydrocarbons.

Refining of crude oils essentially consists of primary separation processes and secondary conversion processes. The petroleum refining process is the separation of the different hydrocarbons present in the crude oil into useful fractions and the conversion of some of the hydrocarbons into products having higher quality performance. Atmospheric and vacuum distillation of crude oils are the main primary separation processes producing various straight runproducts, e.g., gasoline to lube oils/vacuum gas oils. Distillation of crude oil is typically performed first under atmospheric pressure and then under a vacuum. Low boiling fractions usually vaporize below 400°C at atmospheric pressure without cracking the hydrocarbon compounds. Therefore, all the low boiling fractions of crude oil are separated by atmospheric distillation. A crude distillation unit (CDU) consists of pre-flash distillation column. The petroleum products obtained from the distillation process are light, medium, and heavy naphtha, kerosene, diesel, and oil residue.


  1. Wilson, Ian D.; Adlard, Edward R.; Cooke, Michael; et al., eds. (2000). Encyclopedia of separation science. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN   978-0-12-226770-3.

Further reading